One Mom Talks About Her Role in Earliest Exposures, a Study of Toxins in Pregnancy

This post is the first by several mothers who, in a monthly series, will chronicle their relationship with environmental toxins during pregnancy and breastfeeding. To see the article that spawned these posts read “The Toxic Truth: How Everyday Products Threaten Healthy Pregnancies.”


Post by Connie Glambos-Malloy

If you’re like me, you spent much of your pregnancy (and some time beforehand) learning about all the different ways your lifestyle choices could affect your child-to-be. I knew I had to give up my red wine, but I wondered about eating fish. Riding the tandem bike with my husband.

And after I was invited to have my body tested for toxic chemicals while I was pregnant, I had a lot more questions. That’s right—toxic chemicals in my body.  Home to the most important person I’d never met.

I’d been invited to donate samples of my blood and urine to be tested for chemicals like bisphenol A (BPA), mercury, and some others that I’d never heard of. I would be one of nine women from Washington state, Oregon, and California to take part in a project called Earliest Exposures, coordinated by Washington Toxics Coalition and Commonweal. By testing all of us, they were hoping to find out what chemicals could be reaching the fetus and possibly causing harm to development.

As an advocate for environmental justice, I spend my days trying to reverse the toxic impacts of poor land use and transportation policies in low income communities and communities of color. I thought offering up some blood and urine was the least I could do to help get more information about protecting children during their most vulnerable time of development. And by taking part in the study, I started to get some very interesting information about polluting chemicals that I don’t come across in my day job.

First of all, though BPA is famous for being in baby bottles, most of us get dosed with the chemical when we eat canned food. That’s because it’s used to line metals cans holding everything from soup to green beans. So dinner can come with a helping of cancer-causing, hormone disrupting BPA—that’s something my doctor/midwife didn’t tell me.

I also found out about a family of chemicals called phthalates. I had heard about hormone disrupting chemicals in cosmetics, but who knew that these things were in shower curtains? And that baby boys whose moms had higher levels were at a higher risk for altered reproductive development?

All in all, I tested positive for 13 chemicals, including mercury, four “Teflon chemicals,” seven phthalates, and BPA.  For some, my levels were higher than the U.S. average. It gave me some comfort that for others, like BPA, they were lower. I guess my aversion to canned food finally paid off!

But honestly, what on earth is going on when healthy women, dedicated to having the safest pregnancy possible, are found to be contaminated with toxic chemicals? What I’ve learned is that at this point, it’s pretty much up to us to figure out what toxics are in the products we buy and to try to make better choices. That’s because the federal government has a totally hands-off approach on chemical safety, and that’s been going on for more than 30 years, when the nation’s chemicals law was passed.

That may change. Just last month, bills to revamp the chemicals law were introduced in both houses of Congress. I’m hoping that Congress will realize what an urgent issue this is, and take action before my son Osai goes to preschool in 2012.

In the meantime, I and two other women that took part in the Earliest Exposures project will be guest writers on this blog from time to time. We’ll be sharing our personal stories, our struggles and successes with living a less-toxic life, and the latest updates on what our elected officials are doing (or not doing) to help.

We look forward to starting a conversation on how all of our families are dealing with these issues, and what strategies have worked for you.

About sharyle patton


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